Sandstone Heritage Trust - News

HTN 56 - Highly successful Harvest Day held at Brakfontein farm, Western Cape - Article by Andy Selfe

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The 5th annual Old Time Harvest Day at Brakfontein Farm, between Heidelberg (Cape) and Riversdale was held this year on Saturday 3rd December. Compared with last year's overcast, drizzly conditions, this year's weather was perfect, clear skies, with a South Easterly breeze, ideal for winnowing later in the day! A large field of 'Korog', a cross between wheat and rye, which grows tall enough for the older types of machine to handle, had been planted and was in ideal condition for cutting and immediate threshing.


The show is laid on by the Southern Cape Tractor & Implement Club, which is part of the West Cape Tractor & Engine Club. The farm, and most of the machinery on show belongs to and has been restored, or at least brought into operating condition, one man, Emile Cronje, who was introduced in the opening speech as a little man with lots of courage! He seemed to be everywhere, all day, helping, showing, driving, operating, always with a smile, dressed for the occasion in dungarees and lacking only a straw in his mouth!

Once again, the Old Timers were there to show us how they remember doing the jobs; reaping with sickles and scythes, and then binding by hand with 'matjiesriet' a reed which grows locally, in fact was cultivated in years gone by for the purpose! We were told that a man would go to the field with a bunch of 100 reeds strapped to his waist, and when they were finished, he knew he had tied that many sheaves, and that should equate to 4 bags of grain. Also demonstrated were ways of tying with straw, when other materials were not available.

Next came the Binders. Two wheel-driven models and one Massey Harris Power-Binder. Each drawn behind an age-related tractor. It was easy to see how much hard work these machines saved! Where the sickle team had just done a small corner of the land, the cutters were taking away swaths in seconds and effortlessly binding them.

Stacking of sheaves in the field was demonstrated, in two rows with three layers of sheaves with their ears facing inwards, and the fourth with their stems together to form a rain-fast 'roof'. The sheaves at the ends had a handful of the straw bent inwards at right-angles, and the next sheaf was laid on top of that, to prevent the outer one from becoming dislodged.

These sheaves were then loaded on to a wagon and taken to a Massey Harris steel Threshing Machine and fed in. This machine is fascinating to watch with all its swinging arms working in unison on the outside of the metal body. Previously a perfectly-formed round stack had been prepared next to a McCormick Deering Threshing Machine, this being an art in itself. Soon both threshers were working flat-out, and the bags were filling. The next demonstrations were first sewing the bags, and then the various ways of lifting them, either with one man or two. Those of us city-slickers were laughed at for swinging a bag up on to the trailer. The correct way, we were told, is to crouch with bended knees at each end of the bag, having made yourself two 'handles' if you had the bottom of the bag, by pushing your fingers into the bag and making a 'pocket', and then simply standing up, and continuing to lift with your arms, not losing the momentum of the initial lift! Still tiring, but much easier!

A John Deere Stationary Baler was then used to work some of the straw into very neat wire-tied bales.

A new aspect to this Harvest Day was a demonstration by three Blacksmiths, Conrad Hicks making himself a pair of tongs and a knife while we watched! He explained that he uses charcoal from the local 'Rooikranz' wood, and that it takes him 45 minutes to make two days worth of fuel! Also shown were examples of finely wrought Damascus steel, with up to three colours, worked into intricate patterns and polished. There was a shortage of bag-sewing needles, and Conrad has been asked to make some more!

The first public appearance of a Gleaner Combine Harvester followed. Emile had restored this machine by this time last year, but still lacked a pair of gears which have been made in the meantime. This machine has the cutters on the left of the machine, like the earlier binders, and this, we were told, makes it difficult to use with other machines which are operated clockwise around the land. This restoration is a credit to its owner! Powered by its own Wisconsin V4 air-cooled engine, it was being towed without any difficulty by a Farmall A.

Two H V McKay Sunshine Headers were then driven into the land and went through their paces. Again, a significant advance on the previous method of first using binders, collecting the sheaves, and either first stacking them or feeding them directly into threshing machines.

Two Cockshutt Swathers (Platsnyers) were then demonstrated, preparing windrows for the later model pick-up Combine Harvesters. There were altogether seven of these lumbering beasts on show, one Case, two International, and no less than four Massey Harris! What was more interesting was that every model differed! We had cutter models and pick-up models , we had baggers and bulk machines. The sight of all these machines in the one land, as well as the platsnyers was an incredible sight!

Even more impressive was the fact that there were enough people on hand with the skills to operate them all! The bagger machines had people of all ages sewing as fast as they could!

With that amount of harvesting machinery in the one land, it was not surprising that before long, there wasn't a stalk of the 'korog' standing! Soon the grain was all 'in the bag', sewn, loaded and put away. Then all the machines had to be put away..... until next year! See you all there!

Phew! But what a day!